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Pieces of Eight

Gov. Beverly Perdue and Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, are part of a state partnership to fight chronic disease. Perdue traveled to ECU April 3 to announce the new partnership. Cunningham is co-chair of the state group. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Perdue Visit Kicks Off State’s Fight against Chronic Disease

By Doug Boyd

Gov. Beverly Perdue announced a new statewide initiative to fight chronic disease at East Carolina University on Friday, April 3.

The North Carolina Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease is a collective of health organizations, health advocates, faith organizations, business leaders and community leaders committed to educating the public and policy-makers about the causes and effects of chronic disease and its role in health care reform.

The state group is part of a larger national coalition.

North Carolina has a stroke death rate 25 percent higher than the national average for whites and one-third higher for blacks, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of adults with diabetes has doubled to 9 percent in the past 15 years.

Twenty-nine percent of N.C. adults have high blood pressure, and 40 percent have high blood cholesterol.

Chronic disease problems are generally worse in eastern North Carolina.

“I don’t like the data that says we’re the ... most chronically ill place in America,” Perdue said. “There are no easy solutions. You know that and I know that. We’ve got to stop a killer. Actually, it’s a gang of killers: heart disease, cancer, diabetes.”

Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, co-chairs the state partnership along with Thea Monet, executive director of the Old North State Medical Society.

Cunningham, who practiced in rural Bertie County before joining the ECU faculty in the early 1980s, talked about the disproportionate toll chronic disease takes on minorities. He said minorities have mortality rates 35 percent greater for diabetes, 12 percent higher for stroke and 10 percent higher for cancer.

“Bertie County is the poster child for me, the canary in the coal mine if you will,” he said. “We’re beginning to make some progress on racial disparities in the region, but we’re not there yet. When the statistics improve in Bertie County, we can be assured we’ve made a difference.”

Cancer, heart disease, asthma, obesity and other chronic diseases claim 1.7 million American lives yearly and cost more than $1.5 trillion, according to the CDC.

Even top political figures are not immune to chronic disease.

“I’m walking around with high blood pressure. I think it’s politically induced, not medically induced,” Perdue quipped.

Information about the partnership is at

This page originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at